Gary Webb, the Pulitzer prize-winning reporter who broke the story of the CIA's involvement in the importation of cocaine into the U.S., died December 10, 2004, reportedly from self-inflicted gunshots to the head.
It was a tragic end to a brilliant, and tragic, career.
In August 1996, the San Jose Mercury News published WebbÂs 20,000 word, three-part series entitled Dark Alliance. The articles detailed the nexus between a California coke kingpin, CIA officials and assets and the Nicaraguan Contra army, whose funding had been cut off by an act of Congress in the mid-80s. Webb found evidence that the CIA had direct contact with the smugglers, knew the proceeds were going to fund the murderous Contras, and tried to cover it up when other law enforcement agencies began investigating. The most troubling aspect to the story was that the central player was no ordinary drug lord. He was the man many credit for popularizing crack, the highly addictive, smoke-able form of cocaine.
For many African-Americans, the story smacked of a grand conspiracy to destroy the black community. There were rallies in Watts and Compton, and heated discussions on black media across the country. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus called for a federal investigation. In November 1996, CIA director John Deutch appeared at Locke High School in South Central Los Angeles to personally answer to the allegations. He was met with loud jeers. It was a PR disaster.
But it was Webb who found himself on the ropes. Ironically, the CIA did little to publicly counter his allegations. Instead, the media did its dirty work for them, most notably the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. The mainstream media accused Webb of exaggerating his findings.
For Webb, the most confounding part of the whole affair was that he ended up being accused of making allegations he never made Â specifically that the CIA-crack connection was part of a larger, genocidal plot to kill off black people. Webb never made that claim Â though he noted in his book, "Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion," the inherent racism in a covert policy that reaped so much destruction on such a vulnerable segment of society.
He wrote, ÂDark Alliance does not propound a conspiracy theory; there is nothing theoretical about history. In this case, it is undeniable that a wildly successful conspiracy to import cocaine existed for many years, and that innumerable American citizensÂmost of them poor and blackÂpaid an enormous price as a result. This book was written for them, so that they may know upon what altars their communities were sacrificed.Â
The fact is by 1996 it was common knowledge in the so-called alternative media that there were connections between the Contras, the Agency and drugs. In 1988, a Senate subcommittee investigation headed by Sen. John Kerry concluded the links were there. Oliver NorthÂs own diary noted, Â$14 million to buy arms for the Contras came from drugs.Â
Nevertheless, WebbÂs editors at the Mercury News hung him out to dry, without ever providing any evidence that any of his reporting was wrong. He was reassigned, then forced out. Webb went on to work as an investigator for the state of California, penning a report on racial profiling by state police. More recently, he landed a reporting job at a Sacramento newspaper.
In honor of WebbÂs legacy of Âauthentic journalism,Â GNN presents this exclusive interview, in which Webb discusses Dark Alliance, the media maelstrom, and the storyÂs historical importance.
The video was produced by a team of GNNÂs video students at the School of Authentic Journalism 2002 seminar in Merida, Mexico.